Tanit was a Punic and Phoenician goddess, the chief deity of
Carthage alongside her consort Ba`al Hammon. She was also
adopted by the Berber people.
Tanit is also called Tinnit, Tannou or Tangou. The name appears to
have originated in
Carthage (modern day Tunisia), though it does not
appear in local theophorous names. She was equivalent to the
moon-goddess Astarte, and later worshipped in Roman
Carthage in her
Romanized form as Dea Caelestis,
Juno Caelestis or simply Caelestis.
In modern-day Tunisian Arabic, it is customary to invoke "Omek Tannou"
or "Oumouk Tangou" (Mother Tannou or Tangou depending on the region),
in years of drought to bring rain. Similarly, Tunisian and many
other spoken forms of Arabic refer to Baali farming to refer to
2 Child sacrifice
2.1 Archaeological evidence
3 Other usage
4 Cultural references
5 See also
8 External links
A Punic coin featuring Tanit, minted in Punic
Carthage between 215-205
Tanit was worshiped in Punic contexts in the Western Mediterranean,
Malta to Gades into Hellenistic times. From the fifth century BCE
onwards, Tanit's worship is associated with that of Ba`al Hammon. She
is given the epithet pene baal ("face of Baal") and the title rabat,
the female form of rab (chief). In North Africa, where the
inscriptions and material remains are more plentiful, she was, as well
as a consort of
Baal Hammon, a heavenly goddess of war, a virginal
(not married) mother goddess and nurse, and, less specifically, a
symbol of fertility, as are most female forms. Several of the major
Greek goddesses were identified with
Tanit by the syncretic
interpretatio graeca, which recognized as Greek deities in foreign
guise the gods of most of the surrounding non-Hellene cultures.
Tanit with a lion's head
Her shrine excavated at
Sarepta in southern
Phoenicia revealed an
inscription that identified her for the first time in her homeland and
related her securely to the Phoenician goddess
One site where
Tanit is uncovered is at Kerkouane, in the Cap Bon
peninsula in Tunisia.
The origins of
Tanit are to be found in the pantheon of Ugarit,
especially in the Ugaritic goddess
Anat (Hvidberg-Hansen 1982), a
consumer of blood and flesh. There is significant, albeit disputed,
evidence, both archaeological and within ancient written sources,
pointing towards child sacrifice forming part of the worship of Tanit
Some archaeologists theorised that infant sacrifices have occurred.
Lawrence E. Stager, who directed the excavations of the Carthage
Tophet in the 1970s, believes that infant sacrifice was practiced
there. Paolo Xella of the National Research Council in Rome summarized
the textual, epigraphical, and archaeological evidence for
Carthaginian infant sacrifice.
Stelae in the Tophet of Salammbó covered by a vault built in the
"Tophet" is a term derived from the Bible, used to refer to a site
near Jerusalem at which Canaanites and Israelites who strayed from
Judaism by practicing Canaanite idolatry would sacrifice children. It
is now used as a general term for all such sites with cremated human
and animal remains. The
Hebrew Bible does not specify that the
Israelite victims were buried, only burned, although the "place of
burning" was probably adjacent to the place of burial. We have no idea
how the Phoenicians themselves referred to the places of burning or
burial, or to the practice itself.
Several apparent "Tophets" have been identified, chiefly a large one
in Carthage, dubbed the "Tophet of Salammbó", after the neighbourhood
where it was unearthed in 1921. Soil in the Tophet of Salammbó
was found to be full of olive wood charcoal, probably from the
sacrificial pyres. It was the location of the temple of the goddess
Tanit and the necropolis. Animal remains, mostly sheep and goats,
found inside some of the Tophet urns, strongly suggest that this was
not a burial ground for children who died prematurely. The animals
were sacrificed to the gods, presumably in place of children (one
surviving inscription refers to the animal as "a substitute"). It is
conjectured that the children unlucky enough not to have substitutes
were also sacrificed and then buried in the Tophet. The remains
include the bodies of both very young children and small animals, and
those who argue in favor of child sacrifice have argued that if the
animals were sacrificed then so too were the children. The area
covered by the Tophet in
Carthage was probably over an acre and a half
by the fourth century BCE, with nine different levels of burials.
About 20,000 urns were deposited between 400 BCE and 200 BCE, with
the practice continuing until the early years of the Christian period.
The urns contained the charred bones of newborns and in some cases the
bones of fetuses and two-year-olds. These double remains have been
interpreted to mean that in the cases of stillborn babies, the parents
would sacrifice their youngest child.
A detailed breakdown of the age of the buried children includes
pre-natal individuals – that is, still births. It is also argued
that the age distribution of remains at this site is consistent with
the burial of children who died of natural causes, shortly before or
after birth. Sergio Ribichini has argued that the Tophet was
"a child necropolis designed to receive the remains of infants who had
died prematurely of sickness or other natural causes, and who for this
reason were "offered" to specific deities and buried in a place
different from the one reserved for the ordinary dead". He adds
that this was probably part of "an effort to ensure the benevolent
protection of the same deities for the survivors." However, this
analysis is disputed; Patricia Smith and colleagues from the Hebrew
Harvard University show from the teeth and skeletal
analysis at the
Carthage Tophet that infant ages at death (about two
months) do not correlate with the expected ages of natural mortality
Stele with Tanit's symbol in Carthage's Tophet, including a crescent
moon over the figure
Long after the fall of Carthage,
Tanit was still venerated in North
Africa under the
Latin name of Juno Caelestis, for her identification
with the Roman goddess Juno. The ancient
Berber people of North
Africa also adopted the Punic cult of Tanit. In Egyptian, her name
means Land of Neith,
Neith being a war goddess. Her symbol (the Sign
of Tanit), found on many ancient stone carvings, appears as a
trapezium (trapezoid) closed by a horizontal line at the top and
surmounted in the middle by a circle: the horizontal arm is often
terminated either by two short upright lines at right angles to it or
by hooks. Later, the trapezium is frequently replaced by an isosceles
triangle. The symbol is interpreted by Hvidberg-Hansen as a woman
raising her hands. Hvidberg-Hansen (Danish professor of Semitic
philology), notes that
Tanit is sometimes depicted with a lion's head,
showing her warrior quality.
In modern times the name, with the spelling "Tanith", has been used as
a female given name, both for real people such as the writer Tanith
Tanit Phoenix and, more frequently, in occult fiction.
In Gustave Flaubert's historical novel
Salammbô (1862), the title
character is a priestess of Tanit. Mâtho, the chief male protagonist,
a Libyan mercenary rebel at war with Carthage, breaks into the
goddess' temple and steals her veil.
In Kate Elliot's Spiritwalker Trilogy, a romanticised version of Tanit
is one of many deities commonly worshiped in a polytheistic Europa.
The narrator, Catherine, frequently appeals to "Blessed Tanit,
Protector of Women", and the goddess occasionally appears to her.
G. K. Chesterton
G. K. Chesterton refers to
Tanit in his account of the
Punic Wars "War
of the Gods and Demons" (a chapter of his book The Everlasting Man).
Describing the cultural shock of foreign armies invading Italy when
Hannibal crossed the Alps, Chesterton writes:
Moloch upon the mountain of the Latins, looking with his
appalling face across the plain; it was
Baal who trampled the
vineyards with his feet of stone; it was the voice of
invisible, behind her trailing veils, whispering of the love that is
more horrible than hate.
In Margaret Atwood's
The Blind Assassin
The Blind Assassin there is an epigraph on a
Carthaginian funerary urn that reads, "I swam, the sea was boundless,
I saw no shore./
Tanit was merciless, my prayers were answered./O you
who drown in love, remember me."
In John Maddox Roberts's alternate history novel "Hannibal's
Children", in which the Carthaginians won the Second Punic War, one of
the characters is Princess Zarabel, leader of the Cult of Tanit
Isaac Asimov's 1956 science fiction short story "The Dead Past", tells
of Arnold Potterley, a professor of ancient history, who is obsessed
with exonerating the Carthaginians of child sacrifice and tries to
gain access to the chronoscope, a device which allows direct
observation of past events. Eventually, Potterley's obsession with the
Carthaginian past has far-reaching effects on the society of the
Ancient Near East portal
^ 'TNT in Phoenician and Punic inscriptions.
^ Richard Miles
Carthage Must Be Destroyed (Penguin, 2011), p.68
^ F. O. Hvidberg-Hansen, La déesse TNT: une Etude sur la réligion
canaanéo-punique (Copenhagen: Gad) 1982, is the standard survey. An
extensive critical review by G. W. Ahlström appeared in Journal of
Near Eastern Studies 45.4 (October 1986), pp. 311–314.
^ Claas Jouco Bleeker; Geo Widengren (1988). Historia Religionum,
Volume 1 Religions of the Past. BRILL. pp. 209–.
ISBN 90-04-08928-4. At
Carthage the great goddess is called
Tinnit (formerly read Tanit) ... It would seem that Tinnit is the
specific Carthaginian form of Astarte, but strangely enough there are
no theophorous names containing the element Tinnit, while there are a
few with Astarte. The name seems to have originated in Carthage
^ Rezgui, Sadok (1989). Les chants tunisiens. Maison tunisienne de
^ Ottavo contributo alla storia degli studi classici e del mondo
antico Arnaldo Momigliano - 1987 p240.
^ Markoe 2000:130.
Tanit ancient deity". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved
^ James B. Pritchard, Recovering Sarepta, a Phoenician City
(Princeton: Princeton University Press) 1978.; see Sarepta. The
inscription reads TNT TTRT and could identify
Tanit as an epithet of
Astarte at Sarepta, for the TNT element does not appear in theophoric
names in Punic contexts (Ahlström 1986 review, p 314).
^ Markoe, p. 136
^ Xella, Paolo; Quin, Josephine; Melchiorri, Valentina; van Dommelen,
Peter. Phoenician bones of contention. 87 Number: 338.
p. 1199–1207. Retrieved 17 February 2014.
^ Briand-Ponsart, Claude and Crogiez, Sylvie (2002). L'Afrique du nord
antique et médievale: mémoire, identité et imaginaire. Publication
Univ Rouen Havre, p. 13. ISBN 2-87775-325-5. (in French)
^ a b Schwartz, Jeffrey H.; Houghton, Frank; Macchiarelli, Roberto;
Bondioli, Luca (17 February 2010). "Skeletal Remains from Punic
Carthage Do Not Support Systematic Sacrifice of Infants". PLOS ONE. 5
(2): e9177. Bibcode:2010PLoSO...5.9177S.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009177 – via PLoS Journals.
^ a b Stager 1980, p. 3.
^ Stager 1980, p. 6.
^ Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Frank Houghton, Roberto Macchiarelli, Luca
Bondioli. Skeletal Remains from Punic
Carthage Do Not Support
Systematic Sacrifice of Infants. PLOS One. Published: 17 February
2010. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009177 accessed 23 January 2014
^ Took, Thalia. "Tanit, the Carthaginian Great Goddess".
www.thaliatook.com. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
^ Ribichini 1988, p. 141.
^ Patricia Smith, Lawrence E. Stager, Joseph A. Greene and Gal
Avishai. Archaeology. Volume: 87 Number: 338 Page: 1191–1199. Age
estimations attest to infant sacrifice at the
Carthage Tophet accessed
23 January 2014
^ Tate, Karen (2008). Sacred Places of Goddess. CCC Publishing, p.
137. ISBN 1-888729-11-2
^ Michael Brett and Elizabeth Fentress The Berbers (Blackwell, 1997),
^ The Phoenician solar theology by Joseph Azize, page 177.
^ Laurence M. Porter Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary": A Reference
Guide (Greenwood, 2002), p.xxxi
Markoe, Glenn E. (2000). Phoenicians. Peoples of the Past. Berkeley,
Calif.: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520226142.
Media related to
Tanit at Wikimedia Commons
Limestone stela with images of the goddess Tanit